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Treading Water. Perfectionism.

Posted by WayneConrad on Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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I haven't been practicing much in the last week.  This morning is the first time this week that I've done my usual before-work practice out in the garage.  Some things I was practicing last week are no better now.  I'm just treading water.


I spent 10 minutes or so on the warmup exercises from Perlman's "Everything..." book.  These are really good.  I start out kind of slow, paying attention to clarity and volume, and then start speeding up.  When going fast, my goal changes.  It's no longer to get every note perfect, but it's to have an easy stride without too many imperfect notes.

When I'm going slow, I want to hit every note with the right volume, sustain, etc.  If I goof up a note, I'll backup, slow down, concentrate on that note, then speed up again.  Repeat until I can play all the notes right.

When I'm going fast, I want it to feel musical, to be easy on my hands, and not have too many mistakes.  If I make a mistake, I'll just keep going.  If I make the same mistake more than once, then I go back to slow practice and focus on it.  If I hear something unmusical--maybe the volume for a sequence of notes is lacking, then I'll try to fix that problem at speed, but if I can't, then I go back to slow practice on that section for a bit.

I've often read that a musician should never tolerate a wrong note, but I don't think that works for me.  I'm too much a perfectionist for the amount of skill I have--I'd never finish learning a tune all the way through because I'd get stuck on every imperfection.  Instead, I try to make things pretty good, then listen for the worst imperfection.  Then fix that, but don't worry too much about the remaining imperfections.  Come back for them later.

This way I get a tune to the point of being able to perform it.  The bad thing is that I do embed some mistakes, just because they weren't the worst mistakes I was making and so I let them go.  When I come back to fix those mistakes later, it's more work than it would have been had I insisted on perfection all the time, because I have to undo the muscle memory I built up.  Sometimes it's a lot more work.

I'm always looking for the balance between perfectionism and getting the song out.


I played Puncheon Camps, but found that the week or so I've spent not practicing hurt my performance on it.

I played I Truly Understand, but the playing was just alright and my vocals were lazy.

I played This Little Light of Mine, better than I ever have.  I love that song.


14 comments on “Treading Water. Perfectionism.”

WayneConrad Says:
Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @10:05:23 AM

I just realized that "wrong note" can have many meanings. Here's what I mean: Any note that doesn't sound like I want. Maybe I missed the string when I picked it and didn't sound it at all. Maybe it wasn't fretted quite right and buzzed or was muted. Maybe I didn't pick that string as hard as the others. Maybe I hit the wrong string or had the wrong fret. Maybe I picked it too hard. Maybe I brushed an adjacent string when I picked. Anything.

Boadicea Says:
Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @10:38:32 AM

It is a tricky one WayneConrad.

AndyW Says:
Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @12:40:42 PM

Wayne, once I post my 'rookie challenge' video you'll be chuckling at how good you really are!

It's the fact you are no longer a beginner that makes you feel as if you are 'treading water'. The easy wins available to myself and Kate are no longer there. It means more effort for longer to 'feel' the results of your efforts. But, even if you don't see them right now, they will be there.

WayneConrad Says:
Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @1:29:04 PM

@AndyW That's a very kind and charitable view. I think it's more that I've hardly practiced in a week, and I'm paying the price for it. But now you've got me thinking about whether the time it takes me to learn something has changed as I've gotten more skilled. For tunes, it takes less time now. For other things--basic skills, exercises, etc.--I don't know.

WayneConrad Says:
Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @1:33:51 PM

AndyW By the way, I am looking forward to hearing your video, and everyone else's. I want to celebrate your video with you.

AndyW Says:
Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @1:44:14 PM

It's definitely gonna be difficult for me, as I'm not a 'showman'. To be honest though it will be a good thing to do. Even if only you, Kate, Lynda, Judith etc look, as I started July it will be a six month standard for me to compare myself to later.

Boadicea Says:
Saturday, December 2, 2017 @12:05:24 AM

Wow you have reached the six month mark AndyW I was trying to work out how many months that I have been having lessons now, and I am not sure I could be up to the six month mark, I am not sure.

@AndyW has got some good insights WayneConrad about learning at a different skill. I hadn't thought about that. It is useful to think along these lines to see if that is applicable to me, but also to another beginner banjo player.

I am looking forward to hear your video, and everyone else's as well, I was thinking of piking but then I thought if you groovers are going to do it, then I will do it as well, even if it is a bit slow and amateurish, that is okay I am a slow amateur, and if I am not here I can't improve. Wow it wouldn't have been long ago that I would rather disappear than be seen. It is quite the journey with our banjos.

I will celebrate with you @WayneConrad, @AndyW, Northl, Judith511, blazo and any other beginners reading along or more advanced folk that generously contribute to The Practise Group.

Northl Says:
Saturday, December 2, 2017 @5:06:17 AM

I realty like this blog and the ideas here. My perfectionism is always watching. Perhaps more of this type focused practice will move me along as well. Perhaps changing the focus can help me get off tab too.

Boadicea Says:
Saturday, December 2, 2017 @12:13:19 PM

Perfectionism can be deadly to creativity. Brene Brown writes and talks about perfectionism, and I am reading her book called

Brown talks about how to be truly creative that you have to embrace your own vulnerability, she not only talks about it and nails it as far as I am concerned but she also gives strategies to manage your perfectionism, and vulnerability. I am only just getting into her stuff at at the moment but it has made me rethink my perfectionism and why I hold it so closely to me and what a straight jacket it is not only in my banjo life but my life generally.

Boadicea Says:
Saturday, December 2, 2017 @12:21:31 PM

Her book is called Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, and to be honest I am finding it really challenging to read, but so worth it, but it is really slow going. Usually I whizz through a book, not this one, so much food for thought. So I identified in myself the technical issues that I might having playing banjo, and then I looked at my psychological issues, (of which there are a few!) and I realised that if I want to be a good banjo player then I have to give up my perfectionism, and be in the vulnerability of creativity. If I didn't have such an awesome banjo teacher I might not have kept at it on the level that I am going I might have shut down and never really connected to my banjo and music in the way that I have connected.

and this is well worth the watch

If we want to be banjo players/musicians/artists then we have to really embrace the hardest things for our creativity, that is of being vulnerable, feeling feelings, dropping shame and perfectionism, and being present right now.

So if any of you folk want to read Brene Brown and have a conversation of how we can apply that to ourselves as budding amateur musicians, I am up for it. I think another skill that is important for creative people, and most folks generally is how to have Self Compassion, and Kristin Neff's website has free to listen and download audio, the one I find most useful is "The Self Compassion Break."

Boadicea Says:
Saturday, December 2, 2017 @12:32:41 PM

Ironically I avoided reading this post for awhile because it has perfectionism in the title!

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown, I don't think I could actually read this one at the moment. But it is there, waiting for one of us, to read it one day.

Boadicea Says:
Saturday, December 2, 2017 @12:34:01 PM

If anyone reads it be sure to write a blog post about it! And if you could break it down for some short pointers for me that would be great! ;)

WayneConrad Says:
Saturday, December 2, 2017 @12:48:22 PM

Thank you @Boadicea for the great comments. I think you should repeat them in your own blog entry so more people get to see them.

Boadicea Says:
Saturday, December 2, 2017 @1:27:50 PM

Sure thing WayneConrad I was going to write a blog entry on perfectionism, and I will use these posts as a basis for that. Great suggestion.

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